The Dodgers have officially converted former starting pitcher Chris Withrow to relief and former third baseman Pedro Baez to pitching.
Personally, I’ve seen both Withrow and Baez in those roles for a couple years now (maybe Baez for longer given his swing), and I think most evaluators began to agree within the last year, so it’s good to see the Dodgers follow suit.
Withrow, the Dodgers’ No. 1 pick in 2007, had early bouts with the yips and more recently chronic back problems. Withrow responded to a bullpen move late last year, and Honeycutt said it’s now permanent, hoping the role change can work Eric Gagne-like wonders for Withrow, whose electric arm is undisputed.
Maybe management recalls a hard-throwing second-rounder that struggled as a starter and was never tried as a reliever. Instead, the Dodgers let Joel Hanrahan leave as a free agent and he went on to be an All-Star closer. “Chris wanted the change,” Honeycutt said. “He likes attacking more. He reminds me a little of Gagne, somebody who might throw three or four innings as a starter but have one [bad] inning, and you can eliminate that if you’re only asking one inning of relief from him. Maybe one- or two-inning stints will be easier on his back. He’s got the arm.”
Withrow’s bouts with command and a lack of development of a solid third pitch would have led down this road eventually, so getting ahead of the curve here and giving him a chance to be a dominant back-end reliever is a positive.
Baez, a .247 hitter in six Minor League seasons, is starting over as a hard-throwing reliever a la Jansen, who came out from behind the plate to emerge as a bullpen strikeout king.
“They put him on the mound in instructional league and that fastball is really strong,” Honeycutt said of Baez, who turns 25 next month. “You talk about Kenley when you see the ball come out of his hand. He hasn’t been overwhelmed by thinking too much about pitching. He just sees the glove and throws it and that’s kind of refreshing.”
Universally, scouting reports have put Baez’s arm as plus or plus-plus, with some clocking him consistently in the low-90s across the diamond. As such, his arm strength shouldn’t be a surprise, and though he’s already 25, he now has the same chance Kenley Jansen did, which is better than languishing in A-ball as a hitter who struggled to hit.
The Dodgers have 17 non-roster invitees coming to major-league camp in 2013.
The ones of note I would say are Tony Gwynn Jr., Alfredo Amezaga, and Ramon Castro, ordered in likelihood that they actually make the roster. The rest of them seem to fill positions that the Dodgers already have a backlog of, especially the relievers.